Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

A welcome rejection of assisted suicide

I’m delighted that Lord Falconer has just failed in his attempt to legalise assisted suicide for people sending friends and relatives to Swiss death clinics. This is a topic which I suspect even CoffeeHousers will be evenly divided on, but to me the whole idea is just wrong – and it goes straight to the heart of how we, as a society, regard the disabled and the elderly. For those who haven’t been following the debate, Falconer used the Coroners and Justice Bill to propose a new law to make it legal to help one’s friends and relatives be killed in the Swiss death clinics. He proposed that any two doctors can be “of the opinion in good faith” that someone is terminally ill, yet mentally coherent enough to make the decision to go to Switzerland for the lethal injection. The debate in the Lords was excellent, and flagged up the many problems with this. First off, the doctors have said they want nothing to do with this. Perhaps because they know that diagnoses can be wrong. As we heard from the (excellent) Lords report:

“The Royal College of Pathologists drew attention to ‘a 30% error rate in the medically-certified cause of death’, with ‘significant errors (i.e. misdiagnosis of a terminal illness resulting in inappropriate treatment) in about 5% of cases.'”

So one in 20 terminal illness is wrongly diagnosed – ergo, people could be sent to their deaths for no reason. And, even if the diagnoses were 100 percent correct, imagine what would happen if the principle were established. If we, as a society, decided that lives are disposable – that there was an officially sanctioned “off” switch – then how would that make our elderly feel? My concern is that it would plant in their heads a nagging question: should they do the decent thing, and ask to be sent to Switzerland so as not to be a burden?

One final thing, that I have never quite understood – and perhaps CoffeeHousers may have some thoughts.

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